I didn’t connect the mouse and the headlights at first. The mouse barely registered in my consciousness, a blip under my wheels. It was dark; a blur of movement caught my eye…by the time my brain interpreted it as tiny mammal running rather than wind-blown leaf, I’d flattened it. A pang of regret and it was forgotten. No guilt. Not yet.
And there’s nothing strange about a car spinning a u-turn. I simply sped up to avoid the angry glare of lights from the car now following me.
Usually I’m the first to jump to conclusions, then spread them like fact on toast. The mouse, the headlights. Should’ve known immediately what it meant. Perhaps after Brian I’m hesitant.
My thoughts were on him, the shame of it all, when the frog leapt under my front right tire, squashed itself into the pavement. I closed my eyes, opened them when the car picked up speed.
I checked my mirrors. Spotlights crested the hill I’d just coursed down, backlighting the trees, the houses…there were houses then…and stopped. Right where I hit the frog.
That’s when I remembered the mouse and how the car turned around at the spot where it’d died. It didn’t feel like a coincidence. It felt like a threat. I kept driving, thinking I’d be safe in my bed soon. But now my mind can’t stop thinking about the dead mouse and the headlights.
I tell myself, ‘Don’t be silly. No one stops to pick a dead rodent.’ But my grip tightens on the steering wheel. I glance at my rearview. Twin points of light poke at my vision, a reminder of my carelessness. Brian…
I’m not responsible for his death. I hadn’t put the gun in his hand. No one expects someone to kill himself over rumors. People talk, tell stories. I’m no different. What happened to “words can never hurt me”?
Light streams into my car. My eyes flick up and to the right. The headlights are closer; they illuminate my dashboard, casting ghosts about. I run a stop sign rather than risk them catching up and hit a darting squirrel. Bones snap. In my mirror, I watch the car stop. Its door opens.
I peer out my windshield, but don’t recognize this part of the road. Trees, trees and more trees. I should be home already.
I’ll turn off at the next street. Let the car pass. Maybe turn around.
Did I go too far?
It’s hard to tell in the dark.
A glimpse of something fat and brown and furry, a bump in the road. Again the car stops. My headlights dim, or the blood splattered across them throws shadows. I want to stop, clean them, but that car is after me. It knows what I’ve done.
I speed up. Fifty, sixty-five, seventy. A red light’s coming up. I slow for the turn–there’s no intersection, just a light strung across the road like a Christmas ornament. Eighty, ninety, my speedometer climbs. I picture all those bloody corpses packed into the front seat. Brian in the back…
Traffic lights stretch for miles on end, they scream stop! stop! stop! But I can’t. Their bleary glow bathes the road in red–a bloodstained carpet. I run every light, floor it to 129.
Where have all the streets gone?
My pursuer swerves back and forth across the road. The squirrel’s driving; I know he is.
I see the dog on the side of the road. I beep my horn, roll down my window and shout. He steps into the red. I slam my brakes; my wheels skid. Right. At. The. Dog.
Impact. I want to tell the car that I tried to stop. I did. It was an accident. They were all accidents.
The car doesn’t care. Again it stops. A door slams.
When the deer appear in the middle of road, standing still as statues, I know they’re tormenting me on purpose. (Is this what Brian felt like? I should’ve kept my mouth shut, stopped saying those terrible things. I’m sorry. Sorry.)
It’s raining. No, I’m crying. Crying and driving and my gas tank is nearly empty. What will happen when they catch me?
I should’ve stopped. I wish I had.
Another red light. This time, I brake. Hard. Stop underneath it, get out of the car. My hands are stained pink. They shake.
Hand raised to shield my eyes, I turn and walk into the white lights.